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Why Africa Comes Under Critical Review at St. Petersburg Forum

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With more than 2,700 business representatives and business leaders from about 90 different countries confirmed their participation in the landmark St. Petersburg International Economic Forum which opens from June 15 to 18, Russia will attempt to tap opportunities – with a focus on a variety of issues relating to its economic processes, developments and long-term sustainable growth within the changing global situation.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin explained in his welcome message that the 25th anniversary forum is taking place at a difficult time for the entire international community. He then added “the mistakes of Western countries in economic policy over many years and illegitimate sanctions have led to a wave of global inflation, the disruption of usual supply chains, and a sharp increase in poverty and food shortages. Yet, as can be the case, along with these challenges, new prospects are emerging.”

Putin, however, expressed his certainty that the forum continues to make significant contributions to solving numerous high-priority challenges facing humanity, while mutual trust, meaningfulness and commitment to fruitful dialogue and partnership will invariably remain its distinguishing features.

Despite the United States and European sanctions that might affect Westerners and Europeans, the participants are noticeably from the former Soviet republics, Asian and Pacific countries, Middle East and Arab countries and just a few arriving from Africa, according to organizers’ reports monitored by the author.

Down the years, Africa’s participation has been comparatively the smallest, and networking has produced little impact on technological and industrial and business development in Africa. With hopes of raising its geopolitical influence, Russia has invited Africans to so many business gatherings including the first Russia-Africa summit held in southern city of Sochi. 

But, Russia’s overall economic engagement is largely staggering, various business agreements signed are still not fullfilled, with many African countries. Despite its global status, Russia is invisible in engaging in the development of infrastructures in Africa. Large Russian companies have been unsuccessful with their projects, negatively reflecting the real motives for bilateral economic cooperation. There are several examples such as Rosatom’s nuclear project in South Africa; Norilsk Nickel in Botswana; Ajeokuta Steel Plant in Nigeria; Mining projects in Uganda and Zimbabwe; Alrosa in Mozambique; Lukoil in Cameroon, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.

Notwithstanding the its performance in Africa, brisk preparations for the second Russia-Africa summit are currently underway. At the St. Petersburg forum, the African agenda traditionally is of great importance. The programme includes the Russia-Africa Business Dialogue, which since 2016 has been the annual meeting place for representatives of Russian and African business and official communities.

“The Russian side aims to continue preparing the second, as well as subsequent Russian-Africa summits and aims to make them as efficient as possible. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries are taking steps to build a full and mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and the African countries, including the formation of a reliable social and economic infrastructure, food and energy security on the continent,” said Oleg Ozerov, Ambassador-at-Large and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum.

Last year the Russia-Africa Business Dialogue session was moderated by Professor Irina Abramova, Director of the Institute of African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, and prominently featured Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation; Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa.

The Guest Speaker – Eduard Ngirente, Prime Minister of the Republic of Rwanda; Rania Almashat, Minister of International Cooperation of Egypt; Alexander Saltanov, Chairman of the Association for Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS); and heads of major Russian and African companies – Transmashholding, Uralchem, Russian Railways, the UN Least Developed Countries Technology Bank, Afreximbank and others took part in the discussions.

The Russia-Africa Business Dialogue session was part of the brainstorming session in preparation for the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit planned for October 2022. Speakers at the session set the stage and attempted to provide answers to a few questions: What agenda will Russia and Africa follow at the 2022 summit? What business strategy will serve both Russian and African interests? What Russian investment projects had already been implemented on the African continent? Are there new mechanisms and instruments for the Russia-Africa partnership being developed?

“Africa is first and foremost about people. What kind of water they will drink, what they will eat, how they will develop, what kind of education they will have. Our knowledge is our capital and our competitive advantage,” Professor Irina Abramova, Director of the Institute for African Studies under the Russian Academy of Sciences, remarked while moderating the session.

As previously and oftentimes, Abramova has explained that cooperation between Russia and Africa must be of a targeted nature, that is, there needs to be a gradual transition to individual concrete work with the specific countries. This will serve as proof of Russia’s deep and systematic approach to its policy for enhancing relations with Africa.

She has also proposed that, in addition to the framework for Russian policy in Africa and Russia’s renewed strategy for foreign economic activity, the Russian Federation develops an implementable trade and investment strategy for Africa, move forward in practical terms in identifying partner countries and in setting concrete objectives.

During his address at the opening, Rwandan Prime Minister Edouard Ngirente has called upon Russians to consider increasing investment in Africa. That Africa has great opportunities that investors from Russia can take advantage of, among these, are the continent’s young population and workforce, the fast rate at which urbanization is taking place, and the huge potential that has been demonstrated in technological progress in areas like telecommunications and digitization of the society.

“Therefore, advancing our common prosperity agenda would imply translating the existing business opportunities into reality. And this calls for important flows of investments in priority areas,” he said. In addition, pointed at the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and regional integrations of economic communities as another priority to advance quickly Africa’s growth agenda and position the continent as an investment destination.

“This could be an opportunity for Russian businesses to invest in infrastructures such as roads, railways, ports, hydropower plants, and internet connectivity that facilitate trade on the continent of 1.3 billion consumers. The investment required is estimated at US$130 billion to US$170 billion per year,” he said.

Mikhail Bogdanov, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa noted that Russian-African cooperation is gaining new momentum ahead of the second Russia-Africa summit in 2022, and recalled the need to create mechanisms to support Russian business in Africa, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s message to African leaders on the occasion of Africa Day on 25 May.

“Today, we have reached a point where there is a need to intensify our cooperation by creating new fundamental mechanisms to support Russian business in Africa through so-called economic diplomacy, which consists of close cooperation between the Russian Foreign Ministry and line ministries and organizations,” he said.

Bogdanov informed that the Secretariat of Russia-Africa Partnership Forum, created in 2020 on the instruction of the Russian president, has become the main body to organize the upcoming Russia-Africa summit, develop and intensify friendly and effective bilateral business dialogue with African countries.

The Association of Economic Cooperation with African States (AECAS) was also established, headed by Alexander Saltanov, who for many years the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister with responsibility for Africa direction.

Taking his turn at the session, Alexander Saltanov, Chairman of AECAS, remarked that the need for state support for Russian companies is crucial for making a real breakthrough on the African continent, – and in this sense, it is a useful idea to create Direct Investment Fund.

Saltanov further spoke of the need to create representative offices, logistics, and service centres of Russian business in the form of public-private partnerships in several countries or regions of Africa to organize systematic sales of Russian products on the continent. Russian brands are grossly not marketed in Africa.

“We can also use the experience of the Soviet Union to work in Africa – for example, creating a foreign trade company that would coordinate efforts in a particular country or in a particular region of Africa to assemble the products offered by Russian business in the market. One company will probably not be able to cope with this, but when there is some structure working in this direction, it will speed up the process,” he stressed.

Saltanov said that an essential topic on the Russian-African cooperation agenda relates promotion of information. Information exchange in terms of business is also necessary – an agreement was signed during the SPIEF’21 to create a Russia-Africa Common Information Space. A full-scale presentation of this project scheduled for October.

Rapidly growing Africa is a promising market for Russian companies. “We, as Russian Railways, see Africa as our promising market due to the fact that Africa is developing dynamically. Today, this continent and its countries are emerging as leaders, including in terms of social and economic indicators. We expect Egypt to be the starting point from which we will begin interacting with other countries. We also see some opportunities in Tanzania. And of course, Ghana, Botswana, Morocco are of great interest to our holding company,” stressed Sergey Pavlov, First Deputy Managing Director, Russian Railways.

“Egypt is an African country that is also developing investment programmes. We have important projects with the Russian Federation – the nuclear power plant in El Dabaa, which is a huge investment of US$13 billion. Egypt is a gateway to other African countries. We have done a lot in terms of developing transport partnerships between our neighbours, with our African neighbours. We are developing road projects, we are developing construction projects, we are also developing private companies,” according to Rania Almashat, Minister of International Cooperation of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

Africa’s growing and emerging market need modern technology. “Another interesting area we want to develop in Africa is the digitalization of agriculture, various digital platforms that we are already successfully applying in Russia. Digital itself is useless unless it comes with infrastructure and with applicable things. Thus, digital is simply an accelerator for us,” Dmitry Konyaev, Chairman of the Board of Directors, UralChem.

Konyaev suggested that, given the crucial importance of direct contacts between African heads of state and the Russian leadership, it should be necessary to intensify the work of all bilateral intergovernmental commissions.

“Of course, Africa is no exception in terms of all the global trends that we are seeing around the world today. Mainly, it is a growing population, urbanization, and the development of new technologies. It is the development of transport accessibility for both passengers and freight. It is the construction of port infrastructure. In all of these aspects, Russia certainly has all the necessary technologies and competencies to finally go back to these trade, economic and mainly social relations,” Kirill Lipa, General Director, Transmashholding.

Economic diplomacy, strengthening of intergovernmental commissions and increased number of mutual visits. “After the Sochi summit, all efforts were focused on launching export to Africa. It is not easy, because 30 years after we left the region, we need to enter a competitive environment. This competitive environment has already been integrated into African life, into African legislation, and the conditions that are opening up for Russian business today – they are not quite the same as those for businessmen from France, the European Union, India, or China,” according to Igor Morozov, Member of the Committee for Economy Policy of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation.

As head of the Coordination Committee on Economic Cooperation with Africa (AfroCom) established in 2009, Senator Igor Morozov hopes that the e-rouble will help or encourage Russian banks to enter the African continent after all and do their best to participate in financing Russian-African start-ups, Russian-African trade and, of course, in localizing Russian-African production.

Speakers at the session believe that mutual advancement by both African governments and businesses could drive further cooperation between Russia and Africa. “Investing in the private sector can unlock the full potential of our continent and implement our plans. We are keen to increase our cooperation with Russia for the benefit of the whole continent,” in the objective opinion of Rania Almashat, Minister of International Cooperation of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

“Today, the concession model primarily provides for initial and significant input by the investor. In this situation, I think in order to help Africa develop dynamically and rapidly, these concession models need to be revised, more attention needs to be paid, including to security and guarantees from the government, from the state, so that the investor feels protected,” added Sergey Pavlov, First Deputy Managing Director, Russian Railways.

Over these several years, Russians have been discussing and referring to priority economic areas of cooperation in Africa. Some experts have also been stressing the importance of getting down to implement specific programmes and projects. Have repeatedly spoken about the systemic efforts, with well-developed guidelines, to boost the investment into the continent.

After the first Russia-Africa summit held 2019, expectations are skyline high as it offers the impetus, in the next few years, to substantially increase investment in the economy, industry, transport, telecommunications and tourist infrastructures, as well as in high technology, healthcare, urban development, and other fields that are vital to the quality of life throughout Africa. By description Africa, with its 1.3 billion population and untapped resources, offers great opportunities for both states, corporate and private initiatives in different investment spheres.

Despite the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the forum which is under chosen theme ‘New Opportunities in a New World’ might still open wide possibilities to discuss in-depth the significance, challenges and prospects of sustainable business partnership cooperation between state institutions as well as between foreign countries and Russia.

In the meanwhile, as a direct result of the “special military operation” launched on February 24 in the former Soviet republic of Ukraine, Russia has come under a raft of draconian sanctions imposed by the United States and Canada, the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and a host of other countries.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Africa

Russia Scrambles for Higher Performance Marks in Africa

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Squeezed between Western and European sanctions due to its “special military operation” in Ukraine since late February and its dilapidating effects on Africa’s economy on one side and its decades-old desire to regain part of the Soviet-era influence despite the weak economic presence and negative perceptions at the core among the public especially the youth and middle class, Russia is gearing up for the next traditional African leaders summit. 

With preparations underway, Russia would have to begin preparing for and play different attractive rhythms at the second African leaders summit in 2023 at St. Petersburg, Russia. Reports monitored by the author indicate that the modest economic gains are gradually eroding due to Covid-19 these past two years and the situation is turning complicated currently due to the Russia-Ukraine crisis. The Russia-Ukraine crisis has a strong immeasurable negative impact, generating social discontent across large spectrum of the population in Africa. Therefore, African leaders would indiscriminately have cooperate with any foreign investors willing to invest and support their development process. Across Africa, more than 282 million people are food insecured – and that number is rising, according to the estimates by the World Bank. 

Throughout Africa, many across the population are displaying discontention and dissatisfaction due to unbearable rising prices for commodities and consumables. This latest food crisis, which did not originate in the continent, is reaching alarming dimensions especially in Africa. In fact, African leaders are confronted with these hurdles and emerging challenges. They are feverishly looking for both short-term solutions to calm down existing tensions among the people, and also long-term strategies to push sustainable development and make pace for growth.

The United States percieves most of the challenges and opportunities with a difference in Africa. It is constantly investing and its private investors are active exploring the continent. The United States is well-connected with its public outreach diplomacy. American institutions and organizations are linking up with the youth, women and the civil society.

After a peak in 2014, foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa from the United States dropped to US$47.5 billion in 2020. During the pandemic, it provided more than 50 million doses to 43 African countries. It has further given more than US$1.9 billion in Covid-related assistance, for urgent needs like emergency food and other humanitarian support.

President Joe Biden has launched the Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience. The year, the Congress allocated US$3 billion every year by 2024 to finance climate adaptation projects, the largest commitment ever made by the United States to reduce the impact of climate change on those most endangered by it. Through the Power Africa programme, the U.S. has connected more than 25 million homes and businesses across the continent to electricity, 80 percent of which is based on renewables. Development Finance Corporation supports renewable energy across Africa, including a solar project in Nigeria, wind farms in Senegal and Kenya. Nigeria marked a new chapter with the signing of a US$2.1 billion development assistance agreement that supports collaboration in the fundamentals: in health, in education, agriculture, good governance. 

And then four U.S. companies are collaborating with the Senegalese Government on infrastructure projects; that’s the Institut Pasteur de Dakar, which is working toward COVID vaccine production with American support and investment; and pushing innivation, technology and entrepreneurship with women and youth groups in Africa.  The popular partnership between the United States and Africa is YALI – the Young African Leaders Initiative.

The Prosper Africa initiative aims to increase two-way trade and investment.  The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act – known as AGOA – provides duty-free access to American markets, and most African countries have taken full advantage of it. U.S. investors are seriously leveraging unto the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Similarly, China, Japan and South Korea have started localizing production of automobiles and tech gadgets. 

Despite some criticism, international development institutions and organizations are ready and offering support. In addition, external countries are stepping up efforts in that direction. The World Bank stands ready. Its latest three-year, US$93 billion global programme – about 2/3 of which will support Africa’s development agenda – delivered through the International Development Association (IDA). The IDA is the world’s largest source of concessional funds, including grants for low-income countries, helping them seize opportunities to reduce poverty and stimulate inclusive growth.

This latest IDA replenishment will enable our support to Africa to increase even more in the years ahead.  Africa has become the prime region benefiting from IDA resources – growing more than tenfold its annual program of about US$3 billion in 2000 to well over US$30 billion currently. This support, plus our growing on the ground presence across Africa, is enabling us to work hand-in-hand with governments, with the private sector, and civil society to implement the continent’s ambitious development agenda.

While in Dakar, capital of Senegal, meeting more than a dozen Heads of State from across Africa, Axel van Trotsenburg, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean, said “African leaders have, through the African Union process, articulated clear goals – from digitalization to electricity to education – and we are committed to helping Africa translate these ambitions into strong programmes that can, within a short period of time, improve people’s lives and transform the continent.”

Foreign countries, the United States, European Union, Asian states such China, and from the Gulf and Arab states are, indeed, at the forefront in Africa. In March during the heat of Russia-Ukraine crisis, the United States and European Union supported Africa through the African Development Bank (AfDB), when the bank sought funds more than US$50 billion for curated bankable projects in key priority sectors identified in the Africa Investment Forum’s 2020 Unified Response to Covid-19 initiative.

According to the China-Africa Economic and Trade Relationship Annual Report (2021), while Covid-19 has shaken the global economy, Chinese investment in Africa has been climbing. The report says China invested US$2.96 billion in Africa in 2020, up 9.5% from 2019.  The turnover of Chinese enterprises’ contracted projects in Africa amounted to US$383.3 billion in 2020, that is a 16.7% drop from 2019.

In a media release, the U.S. Government’s lead development agency, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has renewed its partnership with many African countries. Quiye recently, it offered to fund various projects, including investment in health and education, women and youth, and infrastructures in a number of African countries. For instance, in April this year, it gave assistance funding of US$1.5 billion to promote a more peaceful, prosperous and healthy Mozambique.

The economic significance of Eurasian Union for Africa’s development here need not be over-discussed. Members of the European Union such as Britain, France, Germany and The Netherlands are play some visible roles in Africa. The European Union, as a substantial economic power bloc, has long-term working relations with African Union.

With its new Global Gateway Strategy, the EU is demonstrating the readiness to support massive infrastructural investment in Africa.  It also seeks to unlock new business and investment opportunities, including in the areas of manufacturing and agro processing as well as regional and continental value chains development. In a document entitled “Toward a Comprehensive Strategy with Africa” – the document sets forth the template of what the EU plans to do with Africa. 

Valdis Dombrovskis, Executive Vice-President and Commissioner at the EU Secretariat pointed out that “In this new approach towards Africa, we can build a modern, sustainable and mutually rewarding partnership of equals. Of course, there will be challenges along the way but the EU stands ready to help. We want to share the lessons from our own process of economic integration, and with our new Global Gateway Strategy. We have demonstrated that we are ready to support massive infrastructural investment in Africa.”

That said, African leaders are exploring available possibilities and windows that have been opened after the last EU-Africa summit. The European Union has unveiled €300 billion (US$340 billion) alternative to China’s Belt and Road initiative – an investment programme the bloc claims will create links, not dependencies.

There great rivalry and keen competition among key global players now. And Africa is now seen from different perspectives, but more importantly, it has been described as the last investment frontier due to the current transformations taking place there. During the 35th Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the AU in Addis Ababa in February, António Guterres argued that Africa was “a source of hope” for the world. 

In November 2021, a report prepared by 25 Russian policy experts, titled ‘Situation Analytical Report’ explicitly noted that many external countries are using diplomacy in all ways to support their efforts in Africa. It criticized the inconsistency of Russia’s current policy towards Africa. The intensification of political contacts is only with a focus on making them demonstrative. Russia’s foreign policy strategy regarding Africa needs to spell out and incorporate the development needs of African countries. 

While the number of high-level meetings has increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda remains small. There are little definitive results from such high-level meetings. Many bilateral agreements largely remain not implemented, and many pledges undelivered. It pointed to lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa. According to the report, Russia has to intensify and redefine its parameters as it has now transcended to the fifth stage in its relationship with Africa.

That report was also critical about public speaking. The report lists insufficient and disorganized Russian-African lobbying, combined with the lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking among the main flaws of Russia’s current Africa policy. In several ways, ideas and intentions are often passed for results, and worse Russia’s possibilities are overestimated both publicly and in closed negotiations.

Several reports monitored by this author show clearly that there has been little approach, in terms of government and institutional public relations, in Russia’s foreign policy in Africa. This author has written a lot about this, emphasizing the seriousness of using media networks – an calculated attempt to build an atmosphere of trust and confidence. Quite obviously, Russians have to devote a great deal of thought to creating strategic communication group that could highlight its diverse performance and practical genuine interests in Africa.

Opening a new stage of relations becomes important especially when analyzing the contradictions and confrontations posed by the Russia-Ukraine crisis and its multiple effects on future relations. Without doubts, African leaders complained bitterly that they have become direct victims of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Overall Russia’s investment in economic sectors is still staggering there in the continent and comparatively, the fact still remains that the United States, the European Union and a number of Asian and Gulf States are investing heavily in Africa.

The Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Deputy Mikhail Bogdanov, most often show their crosshair of consistent criticism for Western and European dominance and investment in Africa. It lacks strategies for implementing those oftentimes forward-looking policy for Africa. The passion for repeating the same things in different ways in speeches. In a general sense, their repetitive theme of Soviet-era support for political liberation and now efforts to help Africa fight neocolonialism is highly appreciated but Russia has to, in practical terms, show its latest policy achievements in various sectors for the past two decades. 

On another side note, Russia most probably needs to design its template of its communication strategy ahead of the 2023 summit, that has to largely win the hearts of African leaders to the emerging New World Order. As already promised, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov, indicated in a mid-June message that “in these difficult and crucial times the strategic partnership with Africa has become a priority of Russia’s foreign policy. The signed agreements and the results will be consolidated at the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit.” 

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Ethiopia: Without immediate funding, 750,000 refugees will have ‘nothing to eat’

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Children displaced by conflict and drought pose for a photo n Semera, Afar Region, Ethiopia. © UNICEF/UN0639245/Sewunet

UN agencies appealed on Tuesday for $73 million over the next six months to provide food rations to more than 750,000 people seeking refuge in Ethiopia.

The World Food Programme (WFP), UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and Ethiopian Government Refugees and Returnees Service (RRS) made the plea for assistance because without it, WFP will run out of food for the refugees by October.

The impending crisis will leave vulnerable families at risk of undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, and increased susceptibility to diseases, the agencies warned

“Three quarters of a million refugees will be left with nothing to eat in just a matter of weeks unless we receive funding immediately,” said Claude Jibidar, WFP’s Representative and Country Director for Ethiopia.

Ration cuts

Cutting rations has been an issue with which WFP has long had to grapple.

Food rations for refugees in Ethiopia were first reduced by 16 per cent in November 2015, then 40 per cent in November 2021, and finally 50 per cent in June 2022.

The impact of these cuts has been heightened by global limitations on food availability, widespread economic shock, rising food and energy costs, the COVID-19 fallout, and armed conflict.

Impact of cuts

To understand the impact of ration cuts on refugees, WFP, UNHCR and RRS conducted in April, a rapid assessment on 1,215 refugee camps households throughout relevant regions.

The results show that most had coped with food insecurity by reducing the number of meals eaten in a day, consuming less expensive foods, or limiting meal portions. 

The joint assessment also revealed that households are going to desperate measures to make up for funding cuts.

Funding repercussions

Funding cuts have forced refugees to rely on an ever-finite supply of food, which increases the likelihood of resource-based conflicts.

Data shows that many families have been relying on children to generate extra income to afford food.

Other households were forced to borrow cash, relying on friends or relatives for sustenance.

“We have a shortfall of $73 million for refugees’ minimum needs and we are deeply concerned that if funding cuts continue, they may consider returning to their places of origin when it is unsafe,” warned Mr. Jibidar.

Taking action 

More resources must be mobilized to meet immediate food demands, and smart investments should be taken to prioritize sustainable farming.  

“The priority for us all must be to restore assistance to at least minimum levels for refugees, all of whom are solely reliant on WFP’s cash and food assistance for survival,” said the UN Country Director.

With an immediate donor response, WFP would be able to buy food available in the region to meet the dietary needs of the refugees and also transfer cash to the refugees, providing them the choice of how to meet their immediate needs and stimulating local markets.

Support needed

The agencies have established an effective system to identify the food assistance needs of refugees through biometric verification, accountability mechanisms and programmes to grant monthly food and cash assistance.

The trio called on all partners to strengthen efforts to address their immediate and long-term food needs in line with international commitments. 

Meanwhile, WFP, UNHCR and RRS will continue to count on donors for extended funding support based on the principle of shared responsibility to implement basic humanitarian life-saving activities.

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Central African Republic: Militias spreading ‘terror, insecurity’, must lay down arms

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UN peacekeepers patrol the town of Bambari in the Central African Republic. (file) MINUSCA/Hervé Serefio

Armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) must lay down their arms and engage in political dialogue, a UN-appointed independent human rights expert said on Friday, urging the international community to strengthen efforts to restore State authority and end impunity there.

“I vehemently condemn the obstinacy of the Coalition of Patriots for Change and other armed groups who continue to spread terror, insecurity and suffering among the civilian population and victims of violations and abuses,” said Yao Agbetse, who monitors rights abuses in CAR.

Armed groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) must lay down their arms and engage in political dialogue, a UN-appointed independent human rights expert said on Friday, urging the international community to strengthen efforts to restore State authority and end impunity there.

“I vehemently condemn the obstinacy of the Coalition of Patriots for Change and other armed groups who continue to spread terror, insecurity and suffering among the civilian population and victims of violations and abuses,” said Yao Agbetse, who monitors rights abuses in CAR.

Grave human rights violations

At the end of a ten-day official visit to the country, he expressed dismay over reports from residents in the town of Bria, capital of the Haute-Kotto prefecture, who described the ease with which armed groups can move in and out of neighbouring Sudan.

In that same district, schools in Ouadda, Yalinga, and Sam-Ouandja regions, have been closed for four years.

Meanwhile, in Haute Kotto and Mbomou prefectures, the Union for Peace in the Central African Republic and the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance en Centrafrique (FPRC) have committed numerous grave human rights violations, including sexual violence, particularly rape and sexual slavery, mostly targeting girls aged 11-17.

Mahamat Salleh, an FPRC leader based in Nzako, has been implicated in several cases of rape and other serious human rights abuses, Mr. Agbetse said.

‘Unacceptable’ attack

He pointed to the brutal, organized attack on the village of Boyo last December, saying that human rights violations committed by the CAR national army (FACA) and the internal security forces (FSI) and their auxiliaries were “unacceptable”.

Russian allies and the FACA had allegedly provided support to the mostly Christian anti-Balaka militia who committed atrocities there, including beheadings and sexual violence, and forced thousands of residents to flee.

“The seriousness of these facts requires appropriate responses from national authorities towards the victims,” Mr. Agbetse said.

“I recommend that the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCAset up a more reactive warning system and regular joint operations with the FACA to prevent tragedies like the one in Boyo”.

Mercenaries

The UN expert also demanded that Russian mercenaries of the Wagner security group refrain from obstructing collaboration and joint operations between FACA, FSI and UN peacekeepers. 

“The Wagner group must not prevent the deployment of MINUSCA protection operations and not obstruct the investigation of human rights abuses and violations of International Humanitarian Law,” he continued.

In the interest of all citizens of CAR, the UN expert urged outlawed militias to engage in the peace and reconciliation process led by the Commission on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Reconciliation.

Systematic investigations

At the conclusion of his visit, Mr. Agbetse recommended that all allegations of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law be systematically and thoroughly investigated by Central African authorities.

“These investigations must be followed by concrete actions to ensure that the victims have access to justice,” he said.

The expert said a reparation fund should also be established to ensure justice for victims.

Moreover, he strongly recommended extraordinary judicial sessions to tackle the heavy caseload of sexual violence allegations linked to the chronic instability and conflict across CAR.

Sentencing

Mr. Agbetse upheld that in cases of conflict-related sexual violence, so-called “amicable settlements” were simply unjust to victims, and must be stopped, he added.

Moreover, he noted that some testimonies and reports indicated a lack of control and accountability within the State apparatus, including the judiciary, police, and the civil service in general.

He also called on Authorities to address hate speech and incitement to violence, and on the international community to strengthen its support to ensure that State authority restoration is effective.

Independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not paid for their work.

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